Recent conference reflections (FIAPAC/QUART)

I’ve attended a couple of conferences recently, very different from each other but both giving me plenty of food for thought.

First up was FIAPAC in Edinburgh, where it was arranged for me to be a volunteer (which mostly meant dealing with the scrum for delegate packs on the first morning), but where I also got to see plenty of plenary and workshop sessions. My PhD looked at sexual and reproductive health, and I am hopeful that I can do further research in that area in future, so this was a good chance for me to have some exposure to current debates in abortion practice and care. Most of the delegates were practitioners and activists, so as a qualitative researcher I felt a bit ‘on the edge’ of things, but it was great to step back and look at what is going on in abortion care and services and hear some very inspiring (and some very depressing) accounts. Highlights for me were meeting again one of my PhD research respondents and hearing about the situation in central and eastern Europe/former Soviet Union both in plenary and workshop sessions; and also the plenary talk on the first day by Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS, the UK’s largest single abortion provider. Her talk about staking a moral claim and reclaiming the moral high ground very much resonated with the findings from my PhD, where I suggest that health services positing themselves as values-free and morally neutral is counterproductive and does not necessarily engage with the moral concerns of society – both opposition and potential service users. I was also really impressed with the questions she asked in some of the other sessions; she wasn’t afraid to challenge people she’s in agreement with generally and I thought that she came across as warm, open and very very impressive.

Then yesterday I attended a one-day conference in Sheffield around qualitative research as part of clinical trials. My current research project is exactly that, qualitative work with people participating in a randomised controlled trial (RCT), and I must admit that working in this context has been quite a culture shock! In one sense I’ve felt a bit like qualitative research is considered a bit of a ‘poor relation’ and is largely undervalued, and on the other I have felt like I’m a bit of a rarity to be working in this context. It was a really pleasant surprise therefore to find the room packed out with researchers involved in qualitative work with trials and to talk not only about each others’ work but also to start really getting to grips with those knotty questions of the relationship between the two and more theoretical and methodological issues. They presented the findings of the QUART study (including a systematic review of qualitative trial-based studies and interviews with qualitative researchers working alongside trials) which was fascinating and gave lots of food for thought.

In my feedback one of the things I suggested was to do a similar day but include the clinicians who are working on the trials which have qualitative components. In a sense the day was ‘preaching to the converted’, but the reality is that some triallists are more committed to and convinced by the qualitative work than others. I think that for triallists to see this ‘critical mass’ of diverse qualitative trial work would be a really helpful way of bridging the gap somewhat.

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